Archive for September, 2014


Good Cop beats Bad Cop

This 12″ never hit the stores. It’s a promo. As a single, it was only published on CD. Needless to say that this was not an option for me. The need for CDs is close to zero, the CD single is probably dead already. I was lucky to find this precious little thing in a second hand store, especially since it features a mix that wasn’t included on its digital brother (or sister).

It’s an instrumental version of Massive Attack’s remix of this instant classic, and it’s hard to say no to an additional display of genius from them. Even if it is a pretty mean piece they turned this thing into, no matter whether you listen to the one with the vocals or the one without. It was created when they were busy working on their “Mezzanine” album that featured pretty heavy use of guitars, louder and more dominant than ever before or after. And for this remix, they let them do their thing even more intensely.

Robert del Naja and Neil Davidge must have thought that the Preachers’ guitars were a little too zu nice, so took John Harris along who was already working on the guitar parts on “Mezzanine”. He supplied some pretty vicious, almost brutal attacks on the track, loud and distorted. And instead of the classic drums on the original track the guys supplied some stripped down electronic beats.

The result is quite disturbing, and as in so many other remixes you will find a hard time to recognize elements that were featured in the original track. Even on the one with the vocals. It’s hard to say whether this remix is something like a radical brother of the message that is conveyed, or whether it separates vocal and instrumental elements. Which is why I prefer the instrumental version, even if it doesn’t have much resemblance with the original.

If the Massive Attack guys are the bad cops, you will definitely find the good cops on the other side (isn’t it so much nicer if music comes two sided?). It’s David Holmes, supported by Tim Goldsworthy und Phil Mossman. They give us a really lavish ten minute serving, “The Class Reunion Of The Sunset Marquis Mix” – I tend to suspect that Holmes deliberately gave the endless title an almost equally long remix title.

Just like my favorite Massive Attack version, this remix doesn’t make use of James Dean Bradfield’s vocals – Holmes prefers to let a guitar take his part. Clearly nothing even close to what John Harris did, but rather one that elegantly fits the sound concept of the Manic Street Preachers. Holmes is generally much closer to the original – and still, we can clearly hear and feel his handwriting in this mix. It fits nicely between his second Album “Let’s Get Killed”, and the third one, “Bow Down To The Exit Sign” both regarding style and timing.

It’s an interesting blend. While the original is at home right in the middle of British alternative rock, the Holmes remix is very much at home in his domain, the intellectual side of downbeat, with a touch of stylish nostalgia. And yet, these ten minutes sound like an elegiac homage to the harmonies  and melodies of the track. The beat is a little less stiff, loosened up with the use of cymbals and jingle rings, the bass is confidently carrying everything – and on top of everything Holmes celebrates everything that makes “If You Tolerate This” a great piece of pop music. And if Holmes hadn’t won us over after the first five minutes, the introduction of strings at that point definitely does the job.

Holmes and friends are able to keep us listening over course of the whole ten minutes, cleverly inserting some nicely crafted breaks, only to rebuild the piece bit by elegant bit every time. Which tells you that Holmes is not just a great composer, producer and remixer, his talents in arrangement are just as impressive. One of the finest remix I have heard in a very long time. Good cop beats bad cop, by a margin.



Trans Atlantic Blaze

One of a whole bunch of burners from Daft Punk’s magnificent first album. How much of a heavy hitter this album was can already be deducted from the elite selection of remixers on this 12″ – German house meister Ian Pooley who was at the height of his fame at that time, Scottish Soma label wizards Slam, and the utterly indestructible house legend DJ Sneak from Chicago. Back in 1997 you couldn’t have hoped for bigger names for your remixes, and Daft Punk gave them plenty of opportunity, filling more than 38 minutes on a 12” that was almost as long as an album.

Remembering all those French House bangers that were crafted by Thomas Bangalter and his friends before Daft Punk was established, “Burnin'” sounds like the logical next step. All the way house, electronically enhanced, reduced to just the necessary elements to create maximum forward motion, only decorated with a few clever loops and synths to underline both groove and texture.

In this regard, “Burnin'” is almost exemplary in the way Daft Punk brought the best of Chicago to Paris and turned it into something so unique that any attempt to copy the formula failed miserably. They never shied away from almost endlessly repeating the parts that worked best, of from letting their synth stabs make our ears bleed while we’d still be smiling and moving our butts.

If you look at it that way, it does take the best of remixers to take this almost extreme material and give it a new twist without coming up with something that is either bland or hard to bear. Ian Pooley tried it by being a little less radical, focusing on the track’s excellent bass line and letting it roll a little more smoothly, turning the French House bastard into a slick dance floor tool. No more, but certainly no less.

Slam, on the other hand, chose to be a bit more radical. Their rhythmic framework is a minimalist 909 skeleton with some sparsely applied samples, a reduced bass line and some nice edits of the Daft Punk sound universe. Short and nasty sweeps become a little more extended and a little more digestible, and the bass gets filter treatment during breaks. None of this is a bad idea – but it doesn’t blow you away either.

Being the true house legend that he is, Sneak gets to supply two mixes instead of one, the “Main Mix” and the “Mongowarrior Mix” – almost 20 minutes of pure Chicago, with the typical straight, grooving Sneak signature beats, slightly shuffled snare and a small dose of Latin flavor. That’s how we know and like him. The “Mongowarrior Mix” knows one direction only, forward, always forward, straight as an arrow, taking the long way to the slow and purposeful insertion of the bass line.

That’s what Sneak and Daft Punk definitely have in common – the joy of repetition and variation, having fun with a nice little loop, and keeping their focus on driving things forward. And while his remix colleagues seem to shy away from that evil synth sweep, Sneak grabs it, takes it out of the immediate foreground and makes it part of the groove. You might at times ask yourself if this leads to something specific at some point or whether this is “just” a ten minute house exercise – but who cares, it’s a rigorous exercise and the purpose is found in itself.

Not surprisingly, the “Main Mix” is a little less warriorish, but somehow that doesn’t make it more charming. This is a pretty serious affair, with an even heavier beat, decorated with whatever Sneak found helpful in the original piece. Nine minutes of relentlessness, taking no prisoners at any point.

Our definition of what’s burnin’ has changed a bit over the years – but this is still a classic, and it’s never a crime to keep a Daft Punk 12″ in your collection.

DAFT PUNK – BURNIN’ 12″ – VIRGIN – 724389455168 – 6,5/10

Boozoo Bajou – 4

Layout 1

From Lounge to Echo Chamber

Respect. Over the years, the Boozoo Bajou guys have built quite a reputation in the downtempo segment, producing a series of excellent albums that you can still listen to with enjoyment while other downtempo artists’ work didn’t really age all to well – and then they suddenly drop almost everything that led to this success. Instead of crafting yet another high class lounge long player, they come up with something that is way closer to ambient, releasing it on the elite electronic label Apollo instead of their former homes Stereo Deluxe and !K7.

It’s fair to call a move like that courageous, simply because ambient is far more difficult to sell than their early material that was an ideal soundtrack for bars that knew how to select good music and stay away from the usual Café del Mar platitudes. And yet, the big step that Boozoo Bajou are making with their fourth album is at least understandable.

It’s something like a paradox. While – as mentioned – their early work is still perceived as excellent, the genre itself has all but ceased to be relevant, and their output on album two and three pretty much documented this process. There was just no space left for further development of this style.

Their second album “Dust My Broom” had already seen them move away from Stereo Deluxe and its rather narrow repertoire to !K7, a label that defies categorization by definition. In a way, this is a transition album, expanding the range of styles, but at the same time watering down the project’s identity. Some of the stuff was as expected, some of it different, and somehow the whole thing was slick and incoherent at the same time.

“Grains” followed in 2009. The plot thickened. Again, the album lacked clarity to a certain extent, but it also showed that there is an additional dimension to the project that began to shine whenever the guys a) worked without vocalists, b) reduced the tempo to the max (which had made them famous after all), and c) leaving everything away that wasn’t necessary and didn’t support the concept.

“Grains” finally showed that the next stage in the project’s transformation wasn’t the widening of the repertoire of styles, it could be found in a reinvention of the qualities that defined them in the first place. Tracks like “Fuersattel” or “Tonschraube” showed which direction the journey might take. Almost five years later, this album completes the transformation.

Still, the jump from “Grains” to “4” is a considerable one. What makes it exciting is that it feels like a liberation. The few parts that still echo the early days of Boozoo Bajou convey an impression that the guys have made their peace with their roots, and reached a point where they can use them as quotes from another era, an earlier life.

One example is “Phonetrik”, a track that features a rhythmic structure close to the early work, even if the guys slowed down even more, and enlarged the echo space to dubby dimensions. With a warm bass and a bit of guitar garnish it’s like “Satta” on dope.

Other tracks on “4” barely look back at all, like “Jan Mayen”, a piece that discards all rhythmic elements, sends the guitar into echospace, accompanied by harp and flugelhorn, leaving plenty of room for our listening enjoyment. It’s a reversal of strategy in composition – from a concept that tried to stay loose and relaxed within a clearly defined framework, this is one of the tracks where the lack of an obvious structure has become the concept, following an approach that could easily be improvisational.

For their general popularity, this shift will probably not be all too helpful. Tracks like “Camioux” or “Yma” were hits of the downtempo years while this album will appeal much more to those among us whose record collection includes one or the other compilation from Kompakt’s Pop Ambient series. “Utsira” could probably be smuggled into one of those collections of ambient tracks without anyone thinking it doesn’t belong there.

What probably will cause some bewilderment on the side of some die hard fans of the early days is that the overall mood has changed most – as if the guys had had enough of all that humid tropical lounge stuff and deliberately booked a ride on a ship to some arctic destination, at the same time traveling from storytelling to atmospheres, from being stylishly obvious to becoming intriguingly sketchy and scenic. “Der Kran” is almost an audio play without words, “Hirta” is quoting dub techno and minimal and stays away from those formats at the same time, and “Your Weak Fire” raises memories of modern dub à la Rhythm and Sound.

It’s absolutely conceivable that a large part of the appeal of this album may arise from the intriguing departure from earlier works. But then again – there is a lot of quality to be found, and sometimes even echoes of Eno’s Apollo Soundtracks can be detected, as in “Stufen-Spitzbergen” for example, at least during the first four minutes and until a synth bass theme of dramatic proportions enters the space – definitely one of the highlights of “4”.

Thirteen years after “Satta”, the Boozoo Bajou project definitely reached a whole new level that will earn the respect of critics and music enthusiasts and maybe alienate a fan or two. If someone sort of lost track of the guys after the first album and runs across this one – chances are they wouldn’t guess it’s the same artist.  Still, we can only congratulate Peter Heider und Florian Seyberth for taking this step, for having the courage and the creativity to come up with such a chilled and classy selection of tracks. The only comparison I can find for the transformation this represents is the journey that Talk Talk made from their first to their final album. And that really is a huge compliment.

BOOZOO BAJOU – 4 – APOLLO – MAB1404LP – 8,5/10


They didn’t really do that, did they?

I can’t remember a band covering a complete album of another artist. I’m sure there are a few earlier examples than this one, but this is definitely the first one I know of. Yes, there’s that really wacky Dread Zeppelin project, and this one is somehow similar, but this album really takes things all the way. These guys have one simple job description – take an epic album and create a Reggae version of it, from first track to last.

The fact that this is actually working over the course of several albums is due to two simple facts. One – excellent production. Two – equally excellent and clever adaptation of the original material. And these guys don’t just pick up any old album, they choose masterpieces of rock and pop. The first one was “Dark Side Of The Moon”, followed by “Sergeant Pepper” and “Thriller”.

So, yes, the whole damn album, every single track, and of course in sequence, including “Time” and “Money”, even the “Great Gig In The Sky”. We might be misled though, if we think that some veteran Jamaican musicians took the tracks to Kingston to let it all be reborn in smoke – the Easy Star All-Stars were founded by four gentlemen from New York with names like Smith, Goldwasser, Oppenheimer and Gerstein. Sure doesn’t sound very Caribbean.

Some of us might feel the urge to raise their hand and point at what we tend to call cultural appropriation – but fortunately the list of guest musicians makes such a discussion more or less unnecessary. Among others, they invited Frankie Paul, the Meditations and Corey Harris. The rest of the band is obviously capable, and the guys do have a good hand at re-arranging the material. And that does say a lot – the project is pretty ludicrous in itself and could easily have led to an epic disaster. It is pretty amazing that it didn’t. The result is actually pretty remarkable.

The main reason for this is that the Easy Star All-Stars are fully serious in their effort, they show the necessary respect to the material, and they sure don’t compromise. The whole album, track by track, and they don’t even really change the basic moods of the tracks beyond the obvious fact that a Reggae rhythm does change the atmosphere to a certain extent. That’s the result of being serious and respectful – the band doesn’t just dress the music up as Reggae clones, they find an appropriate translation for the soul of each track as well.

Also helpful: the All-Stars make good use of the various styles that Reggae has to offer. It’s not all Wailers style stuff here. Their version of “Breathe” may be, for very good reason, but for “On The Run” they wisely chose a Jungle style, and it fits so well it makes you smile.

The best tracks of the original “Dark Side of the Moon” are also the most convincing on this album. “Time” is a great example. The most surprising aspect may even be that the guys really didn’t have to do all that much to twist this towards Reggae, and when you listen to it, it even kind of makes sense. The topic is an open invitation to give it a Jamaican twist anyway, and for the vocalists – Corey Harris and rapper Ranking Joe – it’s plain sailing. It’s a nice twist to exchange Richard Wright’s synths with a simple organ, and the beat kind of makes you want to check if the original wasn’t kind of a Reggae piece to begin with. Nice.

The one track that could have gone wrong in so many ways and in really epic dimensions is the one that even Pink Floyd were afraid of bringing to the stage: “The Great Gig In The Sky”. When Clare Torry supplied her vocals for the original, back in the days, part of the magic was that she actually never realized what an epic performance she delivered. And to be honest – on this version, Kirsty Rock expectedly doesn’t measure up to her. But neither she nor the rest of the All-Stars are creating an embarrassment here, and that is quite an achievement.

The rest should be (and actually is) comparatively easy. Just like “Time”,  “Money” suddenly seems like it was just waiting for an uptempo Reggae rhythm. The vocal performances may not be the best ones this album has to offer, but it is still an enjoyable track with the dubbed out sax solo and the cleverly translated mood of the second half of the track.

The highlight of this astonishing ride follows – almost eight marvelously adapted minutes of “Us And Them” and “Any Colour You Like”. This is when even skeptics will have to agree that the All-Stars really are a class act at this transformation job, doing justice to the atmosphere and identity of the tracks, creating identically emotional moments while bringing these epic pieces from London to Kingston. You gotta love how they turn this into one big dub mix.

Even the irony and fatalism of “Brain Damage” gets a suitable Reggae translation, again it’s like the track was begging for such a treatment. We would have liked to get more than just two minutes of contribution by The Meditations on “Eclipse”, but what can you do – the original isn’t much longer. You can’t always get what you want.

There will be plenty of purists out there that will call this album a sacrilege, and others will argue that this album is one big and respectful homage. We, on the other hand, just light up and lean back, understanding that as much as this might have been a really wacky idea to begin with, the result is quite remarkable. You can get the vinyl version of this album in three colors – of course the selection is red, yellow and green. Just in case you care to know, I have a green one.



But who is the King?

It was the turn of the millennium when the hype around dowtempo slash electronica slash headz slash chillout was reaching enormous levels. Hundreds of projects popped up everywhere, fueled by the success of its early protagonists, hoping to catch some of the limelight that was seemingly easy to reach. King Kooba is a good example – even if they definitely weren’t in it for fame and fortune. They did their thing. And if they never really took off big time, then it wasn’t because of a lack of quality or depth, it was because of their concept – or the difficulties in finding one.

This album does offer a lot of quality material. It is intriguingly eclectic, clearly well produced, and there are enough tracks that don’t lose charm after several rounds of listening. “Enter The Throne Room” did find its way into my DJ bag lots of times, and it didn’t just stay there waiting to be played.

“California Suite” got a lot of plays, a really slick track for an elegant evening at the bar or lounge. Relaxed beats, classy use of strings, the clever integration of an a capella by Esther Phillips  – there’s definitely nothing to complain about. Or “Koobesq”. A piece that could have just as well come from benchmark producers Thievery Corporation, featuring a convincing performance of vocalist Melissa Heathcote.

You might also enjoy “Single Malt”, sitting in a good place between Lounge and Drum’n’Bass. You might as well argue that the attempt to produce coolness is a little too obvious – but then, the whole genre was created to primarily do just that.

“Spectra In C Minor” is further expanding the range of styles, speeding things up without losing the relaxed attitude, a simple yet effective bass line, solid work on the drum parts – this could have come from the likes of  Red Snapper, and that clearly is a compliment.

Theoretically – if “Enter The Throne Room” had kept the material to a single longplayer and not two, it probably would have been an excellent album. Would have. Things start to become complicated on side three. “Terminal X” is a dark mixture of restrained Drum’n’Bass and something like Jazz. It sounds like something that would work nicely in a live set – but on this album it isn’t much more than an exercise. An attempt.

The “Pugwash Beats” take us to abstract Hip Hop spheres, and we begin to understand the problem of this album: with every new track, a new box is opened, and instead of marveling at the many facets of “Enter The Throne Room” we increasingly suspect a lack of concept. Even the slick production of Simon Richmond a.k.a. Palm Skin Productions doesn’t change that.

Side four reinforces this impression with some hectic Drum’n’Bass on “Fraternity” and “Catscratch”. Track after track you keep wondering how that really cool and competent downtempo project could turn into such a joyless D’n’B exercise.

It’s really sad. In the end you’re sitting there a little confused and aggravated by these relentless beats, and even while they are still beating you already know that this second vinyl will probably not leave the sleeve again. But the first one is really good. The one that gets it a place in the DJ bag for the evening at the bar. Better than nothing.



Better than the cover

Let’s start at the end. On the inner sleeve, the band is boldly saying:  “Stetsasonic is the one and only Hip Hop Band and the future of soul music.” In 1991, the West Coast was already doing its thing and the direction Hip Hop was taking surely didn’t move closer to Soul. It was much more turning towards guns and gangsters. So you might say that this statement wasn’t just bold, it was also pretty much out of touch with reality. It is definitely based on the courage that two successful albums will create, and indeed Stetsasonic was a band where other acts weren’t much more than a turntable and a few microphones.

Still. What they said about the future – it didn’t work out. This was their last album. We don’t know whether the blood and the sweat were followed by tears or not, in the years after Stetsa, Hip Hop rapidly ran away from its Soul and Funk roots, like a renegade son that didn’t feel like having any roots at all, doing his own thing. For a pretty long time this just might have been the last album that paid tribute to Otis Redding, Sam Cooke, George Clinton and a few other legends.

What we really need to talk about is the cover though. Some people might say that a band that chooses such a terrible cover illustration actually doesn’t deserve to exist for another album. It’s really, really bad. A dilettantish depiction of the band as workers laying railway tracks. Drawing the ridiculously exaggerated six-packs the guys have been given in this illustration must have taken up most of the time, even if the result is not really in line with basic human anatomy. Why the band is shoveling vinyl into wagons at the same time remains a mystery. My guess is that most buyers of this album made sure no one was watching when they made their way to the cashier.

Once you have gotten over this artistic derailment (!) – which is not really that hard considering that lots of hop hop albums displayed questionable taste in choosing cover art – the disappointments are at least not as extreme. Stetsasonic really is a band and that does qualify for a certain amount of respect. Real drummers instead of samplers and drum machines – we do sympathize.

But just in case we haven’t noticed yet, the album opens with an instrumental called “Hip Hop Band”. We got the message, and as an opener it’s okay. Then we get “No B.S. Allowed” and in a sort of reverse way, this track is kind of a sign of the times. B.S. is almost cute. I mean, really… Afraid of putting the word bullshit in your mouth? Come on. Over on the other side of the continent they were already barking an angry “Fuck The Police” into the microphones. Not that this kind of message is representing a role model in any way, but N.W.A. were directly pointing at severe problems the black community were having with law enforcement and Stetsa were still doing the old school routines.

Fittingly, they follow up with a dedication to UTFO, “Uda Man”. We get a few fresh samples and a dose of humor – but at that point UTFO was not the kind of reference that would let you come across as someone that’s at the forefront of the evolution of Hip Hop. You know what I mean. “Speaking Of A Girl Named Suzy” raises the tempo for a moment, but it’s as harmless as an early Fresh Prince tune. At least we get a small dose of P-Funk.

The problem with this album is that you don’t find anything even remotely as catchy as “Talkin’ All That Jazz”. Or something that has the same level of originality and clarity of concept. The title track is okay, but doesn’t really convince anyone. And the bits of silliness towards the end of side one – “Paul’s A Sucker” – don’t really help raise the level either.

It remains questionable whether it was really necessary to put eleven tracks on this long-player, and the CD version even had seventeen. The only effect is that it gets long and longer and you increasingly wonder why. It’s almost proof of this kind of overkill that the track listing isn’t correct. The sleeve says that the first track on side two is “I Like To Party” while the vinyl claims that it’s called “So Let The Fun Begin”. And what do they keep singing? “I Like To Party”. Oh well. As expected, it’s a funky party jam with a bunch of well known samples and not enough drive to let us want to party.

It’s not like the guys are lacking talent, and they do try hard. But they seem to have fallen out of time. Even in 1991, a contribution to the battle of the boroughs like “Go Brooklyn 3” felt outdated – these battles had long been replaced by the ones between East- and West Coast. Credit where credit is due though, at least for commendable use of P-Funk samples and a pretty good song title on “Don’t Let Your Mouth Write A Check That Your Ass Can’t Cash”. Not sure if that ass is moving yet, though.

Sometimes the fact that they are a band is actually providing some benefits, as in “Ghetto Is The World”, and we can see a glimpse of what would happen if the guys didn’t just do the old stuff with a band instead of some boxes with knobs, but we also understand that they probably wouldn’t have been able to rise to the level it would have needed – the ladies that are providing the singing on the chorus somehow feel like they have been just pasted into the mix.

Surprise, surprise: towards the end, the B.S is followed by some M.F. and they even say it. Motherfucker! The audacity even creates a little more flow than in most tracks of the album, even if what they are doing here had been done before and on a higher level by folks like Eric B. & Rakim.

It’s not difficult to understand why Stetsasonic called it quits soon after. As much as they may have thought that the Hip Hop Band thing was a concept – the album showed that it wasn’t. At least not for them. Maybe that’s one of the reasons why Prince Paul’s production work is not as good as it was for De La Soul – one of the things those guys definitely had was a clear concept. It just isn’t enough to do the same old stuff and think that being a band is making all the difference, especially when that conceptual idea isn’t really followed through all the way. Letting the other band members be a producer as well on some of the tracks may seem like a logical idea, you know, helping the band feeling like a real band and all, but that’s really not all that makes a band. We just don’t know what they stand for.

So, after this album, all the blood and sweat had been spent. The upcoming Gangsta Rap produced a lot of mediocre and even crappy albums as well – but in its best moments it was innovative, and that’s something you can’t say about this album.



Hootin’ tootin’ groovin’

It’s an interesting development that year after year the party landscape is increasingly serving brass bands to provide a different approach to the usual turntable based entertainment. A lot of times they do what American college marching bands have been doing for quite a while already – adapting soul, rock and pop hits to fit their purposes. People simply love it. And since 2008, the Hackney Colliery Band – featuring no less than seven brass players, a drummer and a bass player – is busy providing their share of cover versions.

Luckily, they tend to be a little more innovative than most, easily on par with the more famous Hot 8 Brass band. On this lovely little 7” they are sending the good old Blackstreet hit “No Diggity” through the hooters, and they are doing it really well. For that occasion they even added more horns to the band. I guess you can’t have too much brass.

The potential disadvantage of such a big brass band – being a little more on the stiff side, especially compared to such an R’n’B track – is actually what makes it so appealing, and the tons of energy that this ensemble is providing is more than enough to make up for the lack of slickness. For good measure and in the absence of singing they simply throw in some really energetic and inspired solos, even keeping it going when the drum break is up. This is a ton of fun.

And those were the days when the B-side was some unloved piece from the back of the shelf. Not on this one. “House Arrest” may sound like it’s some party hit from the early days of House – but it is much closer to a really nice Balkan party classic, and not a cover version at all – it’s a Hackney Colliery original. Not necessarily a revolutionary idea, but it creates just as much joy as the A-side, it’s a lovely idea and really well produced (no wonder: Benedic Lamdin of Nostalgia 77 fame did the honors). Can’t wait to put this on when the next party is approaching boiling point. Cheers!


Four Tet – Pause


Press play for Pause

Some folks are just born to make music. They can’t start early enough, create remarkable stuff from day one, keep evolving and building a community of fans, they are just all music. Kieran Hebden is one of them, without any doubt. First recording deal at age 15, first remix on a Warp anniversary album, and from there it was just always upward and forward.

When “Pause” was released in 2001 it was already his sixth album. Four had been released with his first band Fridge, as well as his first album as Four Tet – “Dialogue”. But it really was this album that started his career –  “Dialogue” was an attempt to create a unique style based on Hip Hop beats and Jazz samples, still a little too demure and heady.

Things definitely changed on “Pause” towards a much more playful and approachable – with the magic trick being that he kept an aura if introversion, someone that could work on sounds and song ideas forever in his studio without ever running the risk of getting lonely. Plus, the mix of elements that he came up with for this album seems a lot less constructed, much more harmonious and coherent. His approach matured from quoting to blending, from using things to embracing them. Long before anyone began quietly talking about a Folk revival he was already working with acoustic guitars, folk-ish harmonies and a sound universe that seemed a lot more natural than most of what was published in what back in those days was called downtempo. He just took one step and was immune from being shoved in this category.

Compared to what Hebden was going to release on the next two album, “Pause” is almost straightforward, more linear – but he already had a considerably different attitude towards the things, topics, images he was conjuring up with his music. Instead of talking about something he would rather let us feel what he wants to put across. Like on “Glue Of The World” for example is as dewy and unwound as a Sunday morning in the meadows. When everyone still wanted to be cool and slick he was already evocative and real.

On the way to “Pause” he seems to also have found his love for little bells and chimes and other things that jingle, jiggle and ring, and a tendency to let them do their thing with a playful disregard of what the beat is doing. You can feel it, he doesn’t just put them in sequence and then loosen things up with a funky little feature of a sequencer. It’s manual and deliberate, the rhythm more a suggestion than a rule. As if he would let the sounds be where they want to be. “Twenty Three” is a great example – it’s not about the beat, it’s about perception and imagination.

Every now and then, short pieces that work like nicely connecting interludes explore the opportunities of interplay between music, life and play, incorporating all kinds of sounds from offices to children playing, or telling a tiny little story as on “Leila Came Round And We Watched A Video” – a touching piece that tells us they were definitely not watching an action movie or a thriller. Simply lovely.

“Untangle” makes sure that we don’t fall asleep in front of the TV – a slowly grooving piece of… what? House? Minimal? Untangled, uncluttered and almost straight if it weren’t for the harp-like theme that again has its own idea of what’s straight. Might have just been the moment when Mr. Hebden discovered his love for danceable stuff – a passion that would grow considerably over the years.

“Everything Is Alright” is almost a signature track here, with a rhythmic structure that is unique not due to its intricateness but rather due to the use of elements – no one is able to let big, almost kettle sized drums sound so playful and light. Yes, in spite of the big drums, everything is alright, and the guitar theme is a testament to that.

The one track that somehow doesn’t work (at least for me) is “No More Mosquitoes”. I don’t know. The dragging, heavy beat, the distorted samples, bleeps and noises – it’s not coming across as organic as the rest of the album, it actually has the power to annoy the listener more than just a mosquito. Sorry.

Apart from the bells and chimes, the other main element that seemed to fascinate Mr. Hebden was a wide variety of guitars, harps, zithers and sitars. Whether it’s in the little episodes or the longer tracks, they do most of the melodic work, nicely crafted repetitive themes that elevate tracks like “You Could Ruin My Day” – the longest piece on the album. Again, the basic rhythmic structure is mostly straightforward, everything else takes as many liberties as is needed to keep our curiosity on a high level.

Most of what we hear on this album is on a level that is much closer to Boards Of Canada than to most of what crowded the downbeat years. Playing with genres and their elements, staying wonderfully organic in a production style that is usually dubbed electronic, being decidedly urban with a big yearning for nature and freedom. The beginning of a long and hugely creative career.



Crate digging for cineasts

I vividly remember when I discovered this EP at a second hand shop in Frankfurt. And how I was thinking, funny how Barry Adamson always seems to be an interesting figure and somehow his stuff usually doesn’t enter my collection after all.

It’s not like he didn’t have an interesting and impressive background. Active since the beginning of the Punk era, co-founder of the band Magazine. Later, he was a main contributor to Visage, you know, Fade To Grey and all. He was also a member of Nick Cave’s Bad Seeds for three albums until he finally started his own thing on Mute and working on soundtracks. Among his credentials is music for films like Natural Born Killers, Lost Highway and The Beach.

Which sort of brings us to this EP. Sort of – because none of the tracks that are featured here come from his soundtracks. All five of them can be found on three of his album – and they all are connected to the movies in one way or another. Small but essential difference.

“The Man With The Golden Arm” for example is a track from Adamson’s  “Moss Side Story” album which is a fictitious motion picture soundtrack, arranged and composed as if it was one, only that there is no film for it. To complete the confusion: this is one of three bonus tracks that were added to the CD edition of the album and it wasn’t actually composed by Barry Adamson – it’s an Elmer Bernstein composition from a film with the same name that was released in 1955. In short: a bonus track from a soundtrack of a film for an album that is a soundtrack without a film. Oh, and the title itself – a lavishly arranged burlesque piece that received a bit electronic treatment.

It’s obvious where the inspiration for “007 – A Fantasy Bond Theme (Dance Version)” came from. This was actually the track that made me buy this EP in the first place. It’s on his “Soul Murder” album, and I totally loved it when I first heard it. It’s the Bond theme turned into a classic Reggae tune, and the idea is that James Bond is actually a little boy from Kingston dreaming of being a secret agent. Lovely, really. What I didn’t see when I grabbed the vinyl and added it to my stash was the little extension that said “Dance Version”. This version received some additional treatment from Ivor Wimborne und Atticus Ross to somehow make it danceable. And yes, the guy that works with Trent Reznor. Back in those days he was still part of Bomb The Bass. Oh, and the remix… I guess for its day it was pretty okay, but even then I would have asked: why?

The remaining three titles are from “The Negro Inside Me” from 1993, a solo effort on which he dared to cover “Je t’aime (moi non plus)”. “The Snowball Effect” is a wild mix including over-eager nineties dancefloor, some Hip Hop elements, a snippet from an answering machine and some decent solo work on flute and organ.

“Busted (The Michaelangelo Version)” is a kind of collage that features lots of pretty well known Hip Hop bits, a truckload of sound files, Dragnet kind of horns and a police car. Full stack of instruments with thick drums and bass, brass and organ, even sounds from an arcade hall. You do get to understand that back then more was more, this thing is almost bursting at the seams.

Finally: “Dead Heat”, dragging along with a slow, heavy beat, ominous synth horns and a crime theme. Again, very nineties, plenty of synthesizer action that sounds outdated for our ears today – but who knows, the decade will probably come back in fashion at some point. For sure.

After listening to all five tracks I kind of have an idea why my only Barry Adamson moment was when I first heard the Fantasy Bond Theme (the original non-dance-version). His production style did not really age well, and I am not sure if a nineties revival would help.



Immer diese Isländer

Es ist sowas von überfällig, dass ich mal nach Island reise. Also wenn da mal nicht grad wieder ein Vulkan das Hinfliegen verhindert. Aber im Moment wird ja nur Lava gespuckt. Flüssiges Erdinneres, wie Knickebein aus dem Schoko-Osterei, nur ein Stück wärmer. Das ist schon recht spektakulär, aber nur halb so ungewöhnlich wie die Leute da. Man schaue sich nur die Björk an. Oder Sigur Rós. Die haben auch so einen Akzent auf nem Vokal, und alle haben sie so ein wenig einen am Sträußchen.

Was durchaus ein Kompliment ist. Schließlich kommt da Musik bei raus, zu der wir Zentraleuropäer gar nicht fähig wären. Wir verlegen schon mal den Lauf einer Landstraße, weil irgend eine Unke sonst ausgerottet wird. Isländer legen da noch einen drauf, die bauen tatsächlich eine Umgehung um einen Felsen, von dem die Einheimischen überzeugt sind, dass es eine Elfenkirche ist.

Damit dürfte auch der Kontext dieser EP recht gut geschildert sein, die mit so ungewöhnlichen Songtiteln aufwartet wie “Will The Summer Make Good For All Of Our Sins?”. Man möchte für einen Parkplatz an genau dieser Umgehung plädieren, um in der Elfenkirche um Rat fragen zu können. Vermutlich werden die Elfen zu Bedenken geben, dass der Sommer von Sünden nichts wissen will, allenfalls der Winter beklagen könnte, dass das, was im Sommer mitunter geschieht, Sünde sei.

Das dazugehörige Stück Musik jedenfalls hört sich an wie ein Rückblick auf einen Sommer, der zu viel Wehmut führte, wie eine etwas düstere Version eines alten Kinderlieds, von gespenstisch wirkenden kindhaften Stimmen gesungen, bis zur dunklen Ahnug verlangsamt und verschleppt, begleitet von allerhand morbiden Geräuschen, die denken lassen könnten, dass die, die dort singen, auf einem schweren alten Ruderboot durch den nächtlichen Nebel entschwinden.

Múm und auch Sigur Rós haben so rein gar keine Berührungsängste mit dem tief Emotionalen, sie lieben es, knietief im Elegischen zu waten, drücken hemmungslos auf Tränendrüsen rum, schwelgen bis weit über den Horizont hinaus und steigern sich in verzückend entrückte musikalische Elfenwelten hinein, die mit einer Überzeugung vorgetragen werden, mit der mehr als nur Landstraßen verlegt werden können.

Für Múm richtiggehend prototypisch ist da “Kostrzyn”, am Anfang dieser 10″ EP, das auf zerbrechliche, zaghafte Melodien vehement emotionale Fanfaren, Trommeln und Violinen folgen lässt, die auch mal so unvermittelt einsetzen, dass man sich fast erschrickt. Vertieft wird die sehnende Vehemenz noch durch den Einsatz einer Melodica – die darf bei Múm eigentlich eh nie fehlen. Irgendwo in diesem akustischen Elfenzirkus finden wir auch hier und da die Stimme der Sängerin, aber sie taucht auch wieder ab, wie überhaupt die Instrumente mehr vorbeimarschieren als dass sie Teil eines lesbaren Arrangements wären.

“This Nothing Blowing In The Faraway” ist auch so ein flüchtiges fragmentarisches Märchen im langsamen Tempo, wie ein seltsamer isländischer Blues, in dem eben nicht der alte Mann an der Gitarre singt, sondern das Mädchen im Nebel zwischen den heißen Quellen am Fuße des Vulkans. Und statt von der Schwernis des Lebens berichtet sie von Dingen, die sie in einem Traum gesehen hat, oder auch in echt, man weiß es nicht so recht, es macht so viel oder so wenig Sinn wie der Titel des Stücks.

Im abschließenden “Boots Of Fog” geht es tatsächlich recht neblig zu – allerhand unerklärliche Geräusche, ein völlig verzerrter Bass, der tönt wie ein Nebelhorn, jede Menge Glocken, Knarren, Knarzen, Knistern, so etwas ähnliches wie Gesang, oder Flüstern, eine Annäherung an einen Rhythmus, der sich aus den Nebelschwaden hervorarbeitet, ein verstimmtes Banjo – man wähnt sich wie im Intro eines Hörspiels aus einem fernen Land, in dem es mehr Nebel als Sonne gibt, in dem man eher im Boot sitzt als im Auto, in dem das Unerklärliche alltäglich ist. Múm macht auch mal Stücke, die nur bedingt als Musik zu bezeichnen sind, aber trotzdem oder gerade deswegen Geschichten erzählen.

Man kann sich durchaus daran stören, dass die Sängerin von Múm, Kristin Anna, mit sehr viel kindlichem Liebreiz und lieblichem Samt in der Stimme intoniert, das ist sicher Geschmackssache. Es ist aber stimmig, im Bandkonzept, und “normaler” Gesang ist bei dieser Musik tatsächlich nicht denkbar. Man kann sich auch daran stören, dass man keinen Schimmer hat, was die Isländer mit ihrer Musik nun genau ausdrücken oder gar mitteilen wollen. Das gilt es hier eher zu erspüren. Kann man sich drauf einlassen und es lieben – oder eben nicht, dann findet man sie vielleicht einfach nur spinnert.

Ich mag so Geschichten mit Elfenkirchen, ich mag auch Geschichten, die irgendwie spannend sind, obwohl man sie nicht versteht. Ich mag es, wenn Leute nicht so sind wie wir, und Musik machen, die sich nicht nach drei platten Songzeilen schon erschließt. Ich hab noch nie einen Reiseführer über Island gelesen, aber nach dem Hören dieser und ähnlicher Platten habe ich eine ungefähre Ahnung, was mich dort erwartet. Wie gesagt, ich muss da endlich mal hin.

MÚM – DUSK LOG EP – FAT CAT – 10 FAT 03 – 7/10